LibreMax Capital’s main fund notched returns of roughly 6% through July this year, according to a person familiar with the matter, after betting on asset-backed securities and rotating out of commercial and residential mortgage debt and collateralized loan obligations.
(Bloomberg) — LibreMax Capital’s main fund notched returns of roughly 6% through July this year, according to a person familiar with the matter, after betting on asset-backed securities and rotating out of commercial and residential mortgage debt and collateralized loan obligations.
The LibreMax Partners Fund, which totals about $1 billion, invests in structured products tied to both corporate and consumer debt. The fund gained about 4% in the first half of last year, as previously reported by Bloomberg. Separately, LibreMax has raised $1 billion across two other funds, namely the LibreMax Core Fund and LibreMax Dislocation Fund, added the person, who declined to be identified as the details are private.
LibreMax believes that structured bonds, which repackage debt into securities of varying risk and size, will outperform junk debt, citing “historically high yields” and fundamentals underpinned by strong consumer finances and record-low unemployment, Chief Investment Officer Greg Lippmann wrote in a July 27 letter to investors, obtained by Bloomberg.
In that vein, the firm increased its ABS exposure while lowering its allocations to commercial mortgage debt, CLOs and residential mortgages. Within ABS, it invested across subprime auto bonds, consumer unsecured, aircraft, solar and credit card securities, the letter details.
The Dislocation Fund, launched earlier this year, capitalizes on market volatility by buying stressed structured bonds at a discount, which are likely to appreciate once the market normalizes, added the person close to the matter.
A LibreMax representative declined to comment.
The New York-based hedge fund anticipates more volatility over 2023 and into the first half of 2024, as persistently high inflation or a recession seem more likely than a soft landing, Lippmann wrote. Lippmann, a former Deutsche Bank AG trader, famously bet against subprime mortgages before the 2008 financial crisis. He appeared in Michael Lewis’s book “The Big Short” in 2010.
Boosting Credit Returns
The fundraising comes during a tough year for US credit markets, which have been roiled by aggressive interest rate hikes from the Federal Reserve and the collapse of multiple US regional banks. The banking tumult that started in March led to corporates postponing or pulling financings across the ABS market, while delinquencies in debt like subprime auto bonds and credit card-backed notes are expected to rise.
LibreMax sees opportunities in whole business debt in particular. It participated in a $90 million advance to Coinstar LLC, giving the coin kiosk operator flexibility to restructure about $1 billion in whole business securitization deals that reached a key repayment date in late April, as reported by Bloomberg.
“We will look to source similar investment opportunities going forward,” Lippmann wrote.
CLOs have had a slower 2023 compared to ABS. Issuance is down about 24% year-over-year at around $69 billion, while ABS sales are 7.6% lower year-over-year at $191.4 billion, data compiled by Bloomberg News shows. LibreMax moved away from lower-quality US CLO debt and equity, selling around $90 million in market value, according to the letter. Those proceeds were used to move up the capital stack with the purchase of about $75 million of US investment-grade debt. Still, the bulk of LibreMax’s activity was in Europe, where it invested in short-duration tranches, including equity, the letter noted.
Meanwhile, the CMBS market rout continues as landowners default on mortgages and credit risk spikes. LibreMax bought short-duration investment-grade bonds that may present low double-digit yields, where it believes “the market mispriced the extension likelihood and where returns are still attractive to moderate extensions.”
In residential mortgage bonds, LibreMax moved down the capital stack based on certain borrowers’ performance, reads the letter. The firm is also seeking out opportunities in single-family rental bonds, where companies have struggled to raise rents amid higher expenses.
Lippmann is also “concerned” about the unsecured private credit market, which he says may become “troublesome” if rates stay higher and economic growth slows. He also notes that LibreMax has increased the investment-grade portion of its portfolio to 28%, from 12% in December 2021.
LibreMax and its CLO platform Trimaran Advisors, which it acquired in 2018, collectively had about $9.6 billion of assets under management as of the end of June, according to the note.
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